Monday, February 7, 2011

On investigation

I heard my stake president speak twice in the last few weeks – once at our ward conference and once at a mission fireside. The talks shared a theme of personal revelation. In both talks he spoke about the need for personal investigation before seeking personal revelation.

In the mission fireside talk he told a story of something that had happened to him that day. He runs a wound clinic at a local hospital and had a patient who had been coming for a long time (later he told me several years) without substantial progress, and they had begun to discuss the possibility of amputating her leg. He had given her the name of a doctor who could tell her all about artificial limbs and what life might be like with one. And she also received names of amputees she could talk to about their experience.

When she returned to the wound clinic, my stake president asked her what she wanted to do. She said she did not know. He asked her if she had spoken to the doctor or to the amputees. She had not. He told her, “Of course you do not know what you want to do. You have not investigated this alternative.”

Looking from the outside, one might assume that she was afraid to make the choice, or perhaps she wanted the doctor to make the choice for her. But he had given her tools to make a decision for herself.

His counsel to the attendees at the fireside was to continue to investigate the church, to study the Book of Mormon, to live the commandments, to explore the blessings of being a member of the Lord’s church. Then, he said, personal revelation can come. Then, Moroni’s promise can be fulfilled.

Hearing him, I reflected on my teenage son about whom I blogged recently. He’s in that same age that Joseph Smith was when Joseph wondered what to do about religion. My son also wonders how to make sense of it all. Joseph’s quest was to find what church to join, to find which was right. My son’s is to discover if God is really there and if he should stay in church (any church). But in both cases, the resolution is made possible by what my stake president taught.

I shared with my son the story our stake president told. And I invited him to continue to investigate. And he is doing that. To his credit, he is not acting out of laziness, but out of a desire to find resolution, and I respect and admire him for that.

As I reflected on my own experience, I realize that my stake president is right. As I investigated, I learned enough to seek and understand personal revelation which contributed to choices I made in my life. And I’m glad I did.


  1. I have a church friend that has chosen to be an atheist in the last couple of years. I feel strongly that I should prepare my children for some of the hard history and doctrine of our church. Some of which I only recently became aware of.

    I want to come up with some kind of plan in how to approach my children in the most effective and faith promoting way.

    I would appreciate your feedback.

  2. Rich, this is a great question.

    I've actually thought about blogging about this in the future, but here are some thoughts I've had. Maybe others will comment, too.

    1. Age matters. I think whatever we teach our kids, we need to be aware of where they are. Just as the facts-of-life talk can be age appropriate, so can other issues, and I think church history issues are like that.

    2. We don't have to know everything. I have had unanswered questions over time. And I think it's ok to admit to our kids that we don't have every answer, and that we are looking. It's especially valuable if we can demonstrate that we have resolved some issues, but have other unresolved ones, suggesting that issue resolution takes time.

    3. Encourage questions. I really believe that it's ok to ask questions. But it's also good to wait for answers, and to seek them in reliable places. (One man's reliable will be another's biased source, so you'll have to sort out where to look.)

    4. Remember what you know. It's good for us and our kids to remember the things we do know (or feel, or have faith in). For me, the sweet spirit of the temple is what helped me to hang on as I tried to resolve open issues about Joseph Smith, for instance. When we keep moving forward without complete knowledge, I think that's walking by faith, and it's ok.

    5. The more we know the more we know what we don't know. Elder Theodore Burton taught me this principle on my mission years ago. As our testimony grows, the border between what we know and what we don't know also grows. And that's ok.

    So with those princples, I think it's probably ok to begin to converse with seminary-aged students about church history issues, especially since they'll learn a particular brand of church history in seminary. For me, I would resist doing in a way that will harm faith, but would want to do it in a way that points to faith. (Richard Bushman is really good at that, I think, but not all share that view.)

    That said, some of my kids had no interest in talking about these things in their seminary years. Carlfred Broderick observed that these issues just don't matter to everyone, and that's ok. For some of my kids who have (in my view) wandered from the path, it's not for doctrinal disagreements, but rather life choices that are not in harmony with the gospel (so they've told me).

    For me, my period of discovery of church history matters began after high school. Having supportive positive (but not dictatory) voices was helpful to me as I found my own way through it.

    That's just my view (which is, I think, what you asked for).

  3. Here is a post I made about it.

    I am thinking of using it as a guide to approach my children on how to reconcile the hard history.

  4. I especially liked the last paragraph of your post, that each of us, in the end, must choose. That's all part of our Father's plan for us.